Staying Guarded: A Lesson in Self-Preservation
Staying Guarded: A Lesson in Self-Preservation
As much as we’d like to imagine we live in a world filled only with nice, thoughtful people, there are often reminders that creepers lurk almost everywhere. It’s also nice to think we could wear whatever clothes, shoes or jewelry we want and be left alone, but that’s just not a realistic thought either.
I’d like to share with you something that happened to me one night about two weeks ago as I was getting ready to go out of town. I ran to Target to pick up some last minute travel items thinking I could be in and out in a few minutes, then get back home to pack.
When I got to Target I noticed the parking lot looked a bit odd. I frequent this store quite a bit at random times of the day and evening, but something seemed out of the norm as I parked. I realized that there were at least three cars parked far out in the parking lot, facing the main front entrance with engines running and their lights on. Almost as quickly as the observation struck me as odd, I dismissed it thinking that these were just drivers waiting for a friend or family member to run in and pick something up, before swinging by the entrance to get them. It was, after all, a Saturday night at about 6:30 p.m. so lots of people were out and about. Right?
Now let me tell you what I was wearing. The only reason I point this out is because I think my outfit, no matter how common or unobtrusive I originally thought it was, helped me to become a target. It was cold outside so I was bundled up in a black pea coat with silver buttons, a green scarf around my neck, jeans and sequined Ugg boots. My small purse was slung across my body and my hair was pulled up in a pony tail. I was actively observing who was around me as I walked in, but once I was inside Target I relaxed a little. I grabbed a shopping cart and moved quickly to grab the items on my list.
My first stop was the vitamin area. As I was hunting along the aisles for the right one to turn down, a middle-aged Caucasian woman came up beside me. She complimented me on my boots as she appeared to coincidentally walk next to me. I smiled, kind of laughed and said thank you. She made another comment about “how cute and stylish” my sparkly boots were. At that point I told her where she could find them in case she wanted her own pair.
I turned into the aisle I needed, thinking our conversation was over and walked around to the front of my cart. She stayed out in the main aisle, just at the end of the one I had turned down and stood at the opposite end of my cart as she kept talking. She transitioned the conversation by beginning with another compliment, “I’m always looking for professional, well-dressed people when I’m in public because I run my own business. What do you do?” I began to sense the shift in conversation at this point and made sure to lose my smile and friendly disposition. I slowly told her that my husband and I had our own business, she asked doing what, as I even more slowly said it was an online business and didn’t offer much more detail. “Oh,” she stuck out her hand and smiled as if she had been rude and not introduced herself earlier, “My name is _____. What’s your name?” “Kelly,” I said as I stuck my hand out a very minimal distance causing her to reach in further over the front of my cart. I stepped back and gripped the end of my cart with the hand she just shook, making sure not to smile as she said, “Nice to meet you, Kelly.”
By this point she could tell that I was extremely uncomfortable and I wasn’t in the mood for whatever she was selling. I had begun to take another step backwards from her when she said, “Well, I won’t bother you anymore. Have a nice evening.” I’m not sure if I even said, “You, too.” Or if I just kept the cold look on my face.
I didn’t hear what she said her name was either. When she went from paying me a compliment to digging for information, I began trying to absorb details about her like the color of her hair, what her necklace looked like, the color and style of her jacket, trying to figure out how tall she was and what age bracket she fell into. Call it paranoia, but I felt pretty confident as soon as she switched gears that she wasn’t ever truly interested in paying me a compliment on my attire.
As I turned around I noticed a family had been on the aisle with me and I made eye contact with the husband. We both looked at each other as if to acknowledge that my encounter was an awkward one and I moved along to get what I came in for. I kept looking for that lady as I continued through the store, but I didn’t see her again. I had just begun to relax as I entered the checkout line and put my things on the conveyor belt.
I noticed there was one woman ahead of me paying for her stuff, but no one else other than the cashier was in our lane. Suddenly, a very tall older Caucasian man comes up behind me and leans in to ask me a question. As he began talking, he simultaneously reached into the refrigerated box that holds drinks you can buy, to grab a drink in a green bottle. He had nothing else in his hands, so I knew he had no intention of coming through the checkout line before he honed in on me. I felt that his grabbing the drink was an attempt at making his approach more legitimate.
“Excuse me, you’re a sharply dressed, intelligent person and I was wondering if I could ask you something.” I said “OK” and kept putting my stuff on the conveyor belt. “I own my own business and I’m looking for people like you, about 25 years old and up, intelligent with a professional appearance who may be looking for a job. You see, I run my own financial services business so I’m always on the lookout for people who might be a good fit. Do you know anyone like that who might be interested.”
I moved up to the front of the line in front of the cashier and told this very tall, older fellow with salt and pepper hair and a bright neon yellowish green vest on, “No.” I made sure to make eye contact with him and communicated through my body language and facial expression that I thought he was out of line and needed to leave me alone. “Well, you can’t blame me for asking!” he laughed. I didn’t respond.
The man stayed in the line behind me and purchased his drink. After I paid for my stuff, I pushed my cart close to the entrance, but waited a minute before leaving the store so I could have my keys and shopping bags in hand and also see where this man was headed. He very casually walked along the front of the store observing the people around him as he sipped on his drink in the green bottle. I walked out of the store and straight to my car. As I backed out of my parking spot I could see him coming out the front entrance, still watching people as he swiveled his head back and forth over and over. I didn’t want him to see my car so I turned in the opposite direction and left the parking lot.
Regretfully, I didn’t stick around to see if he met up with the lady, approached someone else or if one of those cars facing the entrance was waiting for him. I immediately got on the phone and called the store’s manager on duty. I described the two people who had approached me and tried to recall as many details as I could about their appearance and the script they both seemed to be following. I told her the lane number of the check out line I had been in and the time my transaction took place according to my receipt. I really wanted her and whatever security system was in place to be able to determine who those people were and to see if they had been bothering anyone else. The manager seemed concerned, and it seemed like she was taking notes as I talked. I let her know that I was a regular customer and had never felt so uncomfortable and unsafe in Target as I had that night.
Both of those people had chosen to say very similar things to me; they both commented on my appearance and mentioned they ran their own businesses. Why?
Shortly after that I called Bryan and told him that I had been solicited by two different people who seemed to have the same agenda. I had been shaken up by the two encounters, but I wondered if it was mainly because of my inability to truly know what those people were up to. He immediately reminded me of the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker and told me that what had just happened wasn’t random, but seemed to have been planned. My feelings of discomfort magnified when he reminded me of “Pre-Incident Indicators” that de Becker talks about in his book.
Before Bryan said that, I had the feeling those people at the store were trying to scam me, but was less concerned with the idea of kidnapping or something violent taking place. I have a way of thinking the worst in most situations, so I really didn’t want to believe that the man and women really intended to harm me. Until Bryan reminded me of Gavin de Becker.
De Becker is a renown author and consultant to citizens as well as the United States government with regard to the evaluation of threats and the prediction of violence. His book lists seven pre-incident indicators (PINS) to violence.
Pre-Incident Indicators (PINS)
- Forced Teaming. This is when a person tries to pretend that he has something in common with a person and that they are in the same predicament when that isn’t really true.
- Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a person in order to manipulate him or her.
- Too Many Details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible.
- Typecasting. An insult to get a person who would otherwise ignore one to talk to one. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.”
- Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help and expecting favors in return.
- The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means you will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt you.
- Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept rejection.
Some of these pre-incident indicators were definitely present in my situation. The man and woman were definitely trying to be nice and charm me. They both offered too many details as they began talking to me in order to sound legitimate. They both typecast me as a younger woman, which if they felt I was trendy with my sparkly boots may have also meant they thought I was naive and an easy target. There was a bit of the forced teaming as they both implied that I was a professional based on my appearance.
Bryan and I went back up to Target about an hour and half later when he finished up at work. We walked around just to see if those people were still lurking, but of course they weren’t there anymore. We saw a security guard walking around so we approached him to see if we could find out if anything else had happened.
The security guard was a young fellow, with no real security devices on him that we could see. He wasn’t wearing a belt to support a walkie talkie or a flash light. He was polite, told us he was aware of my phone call to the manager and that they had been keeping an eye out for the people I described. But, he also told us he was planning to check the security tapes later. So, he hadn’t even bothered to look back at the video after I called to report the incident.
What Really Happened
Is it possible that the two people who approached me at Target meant no harm? That they were just horribly ignorant self-employed people who don’t know how to ethically recruit their staff? Or is it possible that these two people were part of a larger scheme to manipulate anyone who would fall for their act? Is it also possible that the actions of this couple could’ve led to a violent outcome? Of course all of these scenarios are possible. We most likely won’t really know what their intent was and can only speculate at this point.
But, what’s important here to realize and to take away, especially for women, is that we don’t have to be politically correct, polite, courteous or worried about coming off as a bitch when your mind is trying to tell you that something is wrong and you need to pay attention to details.
When you’re walking in and out of buildings, whether public or private, always observe your surroundings. Pay attention to things that may be out of the ordinary. Stay off of your phone during these times and keep your keys in your hand. Also make sure your arms aren’t too burdened with bags or items that will inhibit you from being able to reach for your pepper spray, knife, firearm or whatever personal security device you carry.
Nothing violent happened to me that night at Target and maybe nothing violent was ever intended to happen to me. The circumstances did shake me up enough to remind me to keep my guard up and not to immediately trust that someone’s intent is harmless. Being on guard may be the one thing that keeps me out of harm’s way at some point in my life. And since it’s my life, I want to guard it well.
I hope that if anything, this article makes you think and that you’ll guard your life too.